97 UX Things

Shipra Kayan - Align Your Team Around Customer Needs via Design Workshops

September 28, 2021 Shipra Kayan & Dan Berlin Season 1 Episode 16
97 UX Things
Shipra Kayan - Align Your Team Around Customer Needs via Design Workshops
Show Notes Transcript

Shipra Kayan discusses her chapter about how workshops can help align teams and stakeholders

Dan Berlin:

Hi everyone and welcome to another edition of the 97 UX Things podcast. Dan Berlin here, your host and book editor. I'm joined this week by Shipra Kayan who wrote the chapter Align Your Team Around Customer Needs via Design Workshops. Thanks for joining me Shipra.

Shipra Kayan:

Hey, it's good to be here.

Dan Berlin:

So thanks for joining me. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Shipra Kayan:

Sure, yeah, I have been practicing user experience design for 20 years, almost. I'm old. I currently am product evangelist at Miro. Miro is an online whiteboard, virtual whiteboard tool. And before Miro, I lead design teams at Upwork and at Miro, and also had a stint running my own practice, design facilitation practice, for a couple of years, working with everything from Series B startups all the way to Apple, Microsoft Capgemini. So yeah, just been doing facilitation work for the last few years.

Dan Berlin:

Can tell us a little bit more about that? What type of facilitation work?

Shipra Kayan:

Yeah, so most of my energy goes towards design facilitation. But it doesn't have to be with design teams. There's been some design sprints with typical tech teams, but also workshops with data teams at FedEx, helping them figure out what problems they can solve for their business using data, or workshops with lawyers and accountants, helping them figure out policy statements or whatever. So it's been a wide variety of types of projects, but mostly using design thinking methods.

Dan Berlin:

Neat, very interesting. And yeah, can you tell us about your career trajectory? How did you discover UX and how did you end up where you are today?

Shipra Kayan:

Yeah, I was, back in the day, studying software engineering in India, in the late 90s. And I realized back then that some of the things we were building, even as desk projects or in internships, just seemed really out of touch with the normal person's experience. But this was back in the day when human computer interaction or HCI was a fairly new emerging field and certainly, at the time, unheard off in India. And I just happened to have this professor who sent me an article about Xerox PARC at the time. And they were an early pioneer in HCD. And it really opened my eyes to the kind of software engineering I wanted to do. And from then it was pretty straightforward line, I went and got my master's at Carnegie Mellon and been in Silicon Valley ever since. But have moved through engineering design, management, and now facilitation.

Dan Berlin:

Throughout your career is there one particular focus or area or activity that you've particularly enjoyed?

Shipra Kayan:

Yeah, it's really reflected... I feel like I have always had this singular focus on alignment, like aligning teams. And in the beginning, a lot of it was driven by being an immigrant and seeing how when you're at headquarters in Silicon Valley, you have all the context. And then some of your remote team members in Atlanta or LA, or some other parts of the world, like Russia or India may not have all the context. And so a lot of my energy since the beginning has been focused on inclusiveness and alignment. And, yeah, that's been sort of a thread. Anything that's gotten me to doing the kind of work I do now.

Dan Berlin:

Nice. Yeah. And that's a nice segue into the work you're doing now with the facilitation and into your chapter as well. Align Your Yeam Around Customer Needs via Design Workshops. Now that we've heard your career trajectory, it makes sense why you wrote this chapter. So can you tell us about it?

Shipra Kayan:

Sure, yeah. The chapter really is a call to action for every designer to think of themselves as a facilitator as well. Design is the easy part of our job sometimes. We're critical thinkers, we know how to apply design patterns. But we're not going to be successful as designers unless we can really align teams and utilize that knowledge of the collective in our work. So that's the goal of the chapter. And it's also a roadmap to how you can start facilitating. So if you're newer to the practice of design or newer to an organization, it might seem a little daunting to run a workshop. But the chapter really talks about starting small, perhaps starting with any kind of the design meeting that you have coming up, and turning that into a workshop, and making it more inclusive, co-creative, collaborative.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. I love this because it's so important, because it helps get people on the same page, as you said, with alignment. Can you tell us a little bit how you bring alignment to teams with these workshops?

Shipra Kayan:

Yeah, I think the first thing to realize is, is that generally... so a lot of times when we have a goal of alignment, we might solve that by creating a presentation. So I know a lot of teams will create a presentation and give a talk or a presentation or present their designs, and then ask for feedback or questions at the end. So you spend 20 minutes presenting, you have 10 minutes for Q and A. And maybe only the one person, maybe the VP or the person with the highest title in the room will ask a question and then that becomes the only focal point of this feedback. So this is a really common story that we see in meeting after meeting after meeting. And true alignment is really about eliciting those unsaid questions or issues and being able to create a space where people who are not aligned can actually speak up and have a safe way to send their thoughts to the group. And that's what I mean by alignment is about asking the hard questions and making sure you're getting to the real real. And the way you do it in a workshop setting, in a very simple fashion, is just maybe asking the right question, like seeding a question to the group and letting everyone write instead of the first person speaking out verbalizing their question or feedback, just letting everyone write in a shared space, whether it's physical sticky notes, or virtual sticky notes, or a Google Doc, or what have you. And that way, you get all of this collective knowledge onto some sort of paper and then filtering through that in some way, it could be the group filtering through that or you as the expert meeting host filtering through that to decide here are the five things we need to discuss today. So just creating different modalities for people to provide their input, not just verbal.

Dan Berlin:

You mentioned the meeting style... the highest paid person in the room sets the stage for what we're going to talk about. When everyone is writing down what they're thinking, then we're on that even playing field.

Shipra Kayan:

Absolutely, yeah. Whether you're more introverted or have anxiety speaking up in meetings. It's so awkward pressing the unmute button now on Zoom, it's so awkward.

Dan Berlin:

That is, yeah. How else? What are some other tips you have for folks in terms of getting people in alignment and eliciting real real from folks?

Shipra Kayan:

Yeah, I think it's key to find the right question to ask in any given workshop or a meeting. And so you might ask, how might we fail at a project kickoff? Maybe to do a pre-mortem or to get a sense of what are people worried about but not saying. You might ask, what gives you pause? So it's really about finding a way to frame the question that invites some of the critique. Which honestly, as a culture we're a very... we value positivity and praise and celebration. Which is where a lot of projects go wrong when people are misaligned but don't talk about it, don't put it out in the open.

Dan Berlin:

What are some of those questions? So you mentioned a few that you can ask the beginning of what constitutes project failure as a pre-mortem. But what are some of those other ways of determining what questions you're going to ask in a workshop? Because you do have limited time there?

Shipra Kayan:

Absolutely, yeah. You do have limited time. I can give some examples, based on types of workshops you might run. Something I really love doing is synthesizing together. So if you're doing research, you might want to synthesize together with other people. And part of that is two people listening to the same interview can hear different things. And there is some value in noticing what those differences are. I remember doing an interview once where I thought the entire time I was talking to a woman and going into another room after the interview and having some of my co-workers who were listening in refer to the participant as a he, right? And it's just like... I still don't know how that person, how they identified themselves, but there are these very basic assumptions that we take into some of these interviews. So let's say you're workshopping synthesis, a good question might be what surprised you about that interview? So instead of asking, What did you hear? It might be interesting to ask what surprised you? What was new? How does this new knowledge change our priorities? So finding a way to ask the question in a way that you're not getting the... you're moving towards your goals of figuring out how does this research impact the product?

Dan Berlin:

Can you tell us a bit more about this group synthesis? A lot of solo researchers may be used to going off and reading a lot of qualitative data and doing their own synthesis. But to your point, when you have multiple people doing this synthesis, you move away from that evaluator effect, where you only get one person's view. How do you do that in that workshop setting?

Shipra Kayan:

Yeah, I generally would do some level of pre-synthesis on my end. Because coming to a workshop completely with a blank slate is not generally a good use of time. So doing some level of pre-synthesis is important. But realizing that a workshop is not you presenting your findings, but you creating the boundaries, and asking people, what did you hear? What surprised you? What do you think really matters? How do we interpret we all heard X, how do we interpret that? What does that mean for us? How much confidence do we feel? And so coming into a group synthesis area I usually use Miro boards with... I might have my preliminary findings, I might create a space for people first to just write down what surprised them, what their big takeaway was, do an affinity right there, a simple affinity. And then, it's always hard to talk about everything, there's always so much. I always do a heat map. So after doing an affinity to see what some of the top themes were, we might do a heat map. Hey, we can talk about two of these, which ones should we talk about. So have some dots for dot voting. And then once you find what the group wants to talk about, the goal of any sort of workshop for me, and if it's a synthesis workshop, the goal would be to leave that workshop with three things that seem really impactful that came out of this research that's going to change our direction or product direction or whatever. And those three things would be the three slides of my research readout.

Dan Berlin:

How about misalignment during the workshop? I'm sure that comes up a lot, where people are really still misaligned, how do you help align people?

Shipra Kayan:

Honestly, I really welcome those moments. When we see misalignment, what happens more frequently is that there is a false sense of alignment. And the misalignments don't show up, so I really welcome it. The facilitation skill to master in those moments is to see first, notice the misalignment, and then be able to put it in words. I am noticing that there are two different schools of thoughts here thought here, thought A, thought B. Sometimes if I really need a moment to formulate or summarize what I'm hearing from the group, I might take a break. I'm feeling some stress here, can we take a five minute break and then I'll come back and I'll have a pathway forward for us. And then when people come back, the key is to articulate here's what I'm hearing and here's the decision we need to make today. And then find that way forward from there. It's also really important... there are two things here, there's at the end of the day, I find that most misalignments point to different assumptions in the two people or the two groups that are misaligned. I think most reasonable people, would they make the same decisions if they had the same assumptions? So what I'm trying to do is get to the root cause. Where are we differing in our assumptions here? And then I'm also looking to see if we need to make a decision who the decider is. So knowing that there's going to be trade offs in this decision, how can I identify the one person that has the authority to make this decision today? So yeah, I like to sit in that stress a little bit and kind of really unfold it.

Dan Berlin:

Great. What else about facilitation? What do people need to know for workshop facilitation? What would be best?

Shipra Kayan:

Yeah, I think it's really all about starting with a goal in mind. And the goal is not facilitation. What is the goal of any meeting that you have? And when I think about facilitating a meeting or a workshop, I literally will draw out the end result that I want. Whether it's maybe I need a project plan, or I want to leave with a framework for my presentation, or I want to leave with this user flow. And within a workshop you're not going to converge all the way 100%, but you want to converge 80% within that meeting or workshop. And so yeah, I always start with this end result that I imagine, I will get to at the end of this meeting, and then plan from there, backwards from there, to make the best use of our time.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. And that helps set the expectations of workshop participants too. Hey, here's what our goal is. Now let's work towards getting there.

Shipra Kayan:

Exactly, exactly. Yeah. And the point is to do the work in the meeting, like you want to be doing the work in the meeting, not just discussing.

Dan Berlin:

Right. So how else can people do work during the meeting to bring people together?

Shipra Kayan:

I have been doing this in almost every meeting now. Whenever I sense that there's this moment where people are giving ideas or giving feedback to someone in the meeting or... This one time a meeting leader asked how we could make our recurring meetings better. It was the head of design and they just asked what can we do better for our recurring meetings? That is so much better in our workshops. It's much better to workshop that than to ask that in a meeting verbally. So I always like to pause. Anytime there's a verbal discussion that's going out of hand, just pause and have people write out their thoughts. So yeah, I would suggest always having a Miro board app, or some way, or a Google Doc, or whatever it is that you use as a co-authoring system. And whenever you feel like there's a conversation going around in circles, just pause, formulate the question that you're trying to answer and have people write down, have everyone write down what their answer to that question is.

Dan Berlin:

That seems to be the the theme there, of having people write things down levels the playing field, and let's everyone move forward. What else from your chapter were you hoping to convey here?

Shipra Kayan:

The other hope I have is that we sketch more. So I know I've been focused on writing, and I think writing is thinking, it's super important. But I also would love for every designer to try getting their stakeholders to sketch in any setting that they can, and just similarly giving them a prompt of what you're sketching, but allowing people to sketch out their ideas, instead of saying it verbally. It's freeing for them and it's freeing for you.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Well, not everyone thinks the same way too, right? Some people are better writing things down. Some people are better sketching.

Shipra Kayan:

Fair enough. Yes.

Dan Berlin:

How do you get people sketching? You know, people are sometimes reticent to do so. How do you get them to do it?

Shipra Kayan:

Yeah, people want to sketch using a pencil when you ask them to sketch because they can erase stuff. So people with lower confidence in sketching are generally reticent to sketch or don't want to sketch. It's all about setting expectations. When I'm asking people to sketch, I'm giving them the freedom to use two dimensional space instead of letters and alphabets. You can draw a flowchart, you can draw stick figures. The point of the sketch is not how good it is or artistic it is, but it is to convey your idea in a medium that's not words, right? It also is a really interesting moment for people to reflect on their feedback or their ideas. So a lot of times people come to meetings and they have ideas about how something should be. And it's helpful for the person giving the feedback to get out of their own head and try and sketch what they want you to do. In a way, showing, refining their own idea a little bit before handing it off to you. So you don't have the burden of understanding what they mean. But just creating a safe space saying it's not about art, it's about the concepts.

Dan Berlin:

Right. And helps get the idea out. Great. So thank you for all of that about the workshops. In our final moments here, how about a tip for people either breaking into UX or have been in UX for a while? What's a piece of advice you have for folks?

Shipra Kayan:

To learn the business vocabulary. Wherever you end up being, you're gonna have to advocate for your design. So the first thing I would do is to look through some of the QBRs or whatever business review decks and learn the business vocabulary. The metrics. What they care about? Do they care about reducing customer support tickets? Engagement? Adoption retention? Or maybe they care about making the product more scalable, technically. What is the business caring about right now? And using that vocabulary is super important.

Dan Berlin:

Tying the design back to those business goals, always. What in particular? You mentioned you know KPIs and knowing what the both business goals are, but what other business terms do you think people need to know.

Shipra Kayan:

Yeah. Definitely the metrics. The KPIs and using... The faster you can start using that vocabulary, the better. But also understanding just how the business runs. A lot of us, for instance, if you work at a marketplace, you're building the software interface for a highly operational product. If you're building Doordash, for instance, and understanding how the operations work, and the journey beyond the website, also gives so much more context to your designs and your ability to advocate for what you're doing.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah, knowing the whole ecosystem is key to design.

Shipra Kayan:

Absolutely.

Dan Berlin:

Well, this has been a wonderful conversation. Thank you for joining me today. We're just about out of time here. So my guest today has been Shipra Kayan who wrote the chapter Align Your Team Around Customer Needs via Design Workshops. Thanks for joining me today Shipra.

Shipra Kayan:

Right, Dan, take care.

Dan Berlin:

You too and thanks for listening everyone.